Harvard Public Health Review Winter 2007
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Best of the Best, 2007 Alumni Award of Merit Winners

Myron Allukian Jr., MPH67
Charlotte Neumann , MD ’54, MPH ’60

PIVOTAL MOMENT
At HSPH, a corporate sponsor covered Neumann’s tuition and other expenses through a fellowship in pediatrics and nutrition

EAST COAST TIES
Graduated from Harvard Medical School; trained at Children’s Hospital, Boston, as well as Bellvue Hospital in New York City

FOREIGN SERVICE
Served as co-convener of the Child Nutrition Project Policy meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2005; has been on the board of trustees of the Freedom from Hunger Foundation for more than 25 years; chairs the Thrasher Research Fund Advisory Committee, which funds research on children in the United States and globally and is part of a working group on nutrition and livestock for the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization

Nurturing African Mothers and Children

For the rural poor in Kenya, meat is a luxury. “Actually, the men get their meat, but the women and children are second-class citizens,” observes Charlotte Neumann, MD ’54, MPH ’60. For 30 years, she has led major studies of malnutrition’s impact on the health and development of African children, including the role of scarce animal foods, from livestock to rabbits, fish, birds, mollusks, termites, and worms.

In a two-year randomized, controlled study in children that compared the staple Kenyan diet of maize and beans with a diet that also contained meat, Neumann and her collaborators found that the latter group did “overwhelmingly better” with respect to cognitive function, socialization patterns, physical activity, school performance, and nutritional status.

“Baseline findings showed that these children, who ate negligible quantities of meat, had deficiencies in B12, iron, and zinc—all essential for blood cell formation, nervous-tract maturation, immune function and growth,” says Neumann, a pediatrician by training. “Mixing meat with plants not only supplies these micronutrients, but also allows the body to absorb them from certain plant foods.” The key now, she says, is to find affordable, sustainable ways of helping Kenya’s families raise small animals for food.

Turning Point
Neumann might never have become interested in nutrition’s role in maternal and child health had it not been for a pivotal year at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), in 1960. When her internist-husband, Alfred, decided to study international health at the School, she won an HSPH fellowship earmarked for a pediatrician interested in nutrition. For both Neumanns, former HSPH professors of nutrition Jean Mayer and Carl Taylor would become lifetime mentors. After the couple studied malnutrition in Ghana, Taylor recruited them to Punjab, India, where Charlotte explored nutrition and infectious disease. Her subsequent work in Ghana and Kenya has focused on nutrition’s impact on immunity as well as pregnancy outcomes and child development.

When Charlotte Neumann is not in East Africa, she serves as professor of Community Health Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Public Health, and as professor of Pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine. In 1996, she was awarded the Agnes Higgins Award for Maternal and Fetal Nutrition Research from the American Public Health Association and the March of Dimes. Last year, she says, she “couldn’t resist” signing on for a five-year stint as a co-principal investigator to find out whether meat supplementation can delay AIDS in young HIV-infected mothers and their children.

Closer to Home
In her own backyard, Los Angeles, Neumann’s work has enriched thousands of young lives. She remains engaged as a volunteer and board member with one of the country’s largest and most successful free clinics, the Venice Family Clinic, which she helped establish in 1970. Obesity is a major interest. Her study of poor elementary schoolchildren in Los Angeles in the 1990s touched off projects that continue to improve kids’ diets and expand their chances to exercise in school.
Despite a schedule that would exhaust most people, Neumann always finds time for family. “We have three grown sons, and three grandchildren, one in Shanghai,” she reports. “Given this, and Alfred’s HIV studies in China, you can find me on one of three continents.”

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Karin Kiewra is editor of the Review and Associate Director of Development Communications at HSPH.

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